Growing veg all year round requires some thinking and planning, but like all the skills we’re teaching it’s the sort of thing that becomes second-nature once you’ve practised it a few times. Like all vegetable growing, every year is different, and what works one year will not work the next. But there are certain basics that stand you in good stead year after year, and that’s really what we’re going to talk about here. The kinds of things that you can build on and adapt for your own environment and growing conditions.
I think of the year as divided into three chunks:
Spring/Summer: May-September, when there is lots of light and it’s warm(ish, it’s the Highlands!)
Autumn: October to December, when the ground is still mostly warm and the light is fading
Winter: January to April, when it is cold and dark and the ground is often frozen.
These don’t correspond directly to how we normally think of the seasons, but they work for us – because the vegetable year is all about what to sow when, and what to do with your harvests to get you through the year.
Growing Veg is an ALWAYS thing
There is no wrong time to start growing your own food – and no right time either. There is always something to do, and it’s important to think of it as a year-round process, rather than something you do frantically in spring. You might not be sowing any seeds in November, but there is plenty to do: preparing beds, general ‘infrastructure’ work, planning next year’s crops, and – of course – eating your harvests! I love that about gardening in this way – it’s much less overwhelming if it is an always thing, rather than a sometimes thing; it’s just part of what we do day in and day out, and because of that it’s a lot less overwhelming and stressful than if it’s all crammed into a few short weeks.
This means that when you think of growing your food as a year-round activity, you’re always mentally in several seasons: you’re dealing with the now, you’re thinking about the future, and you’re eating from the past. Right now, for example, we’re busy planting out lots of seedlings and also harvesting some spring and early summer crops (now), but we’re also sowing for autumn and are thinking about any preparation need for this (then), and we’re eating ‘put up’ food (past) such as jams and chutneys, and lots of veg from the freezer. So while we’re physically in spring/summer right now, mentally we’re in autumn, and bodily (I can’t think of a better word) we’re also in last summer/autumn. See? It’s all all-year-round thing.
Things to think about and keep in mind
1. Think about the end result – what do you want to be eating, and when? Do you only want to eat things fresh or do you also want to ‘put up’ food to eat at a later stage?
2. What do you know does well for you – what can you grow without having to think about it? For us it’s kale and chard – we can sow it pretty much any time from February to October and we’ll have leaves all year round, even outside. They’re our ‘no brain’ crops.
3. Think about light and temperature levels in your location – the further south you are, the more the seasons will blend into one another. But up here at 57 degrees north there is such a marked difference in light levels that pretty much everything is dormant in the Dark Months. But established plants don’t tend to die off where we are – they might not grow much then, but they’ll stay put.
4. What is your space and infrastructure like? Do you have greenhouses, polytunnels or a sitoutery? Do you have raised beds that you can cover? How much storage space do you have for your food – do you have freezer/pantry space, or space to store root crops and things like apples?
5. Do you know anyone in real life/near you who grows food all year round? Can you chat to them to see what they’re doing when, and how they’re doing it?
6. Knowing when to sow what – I’m attaching my sowing schedule for you. Use this and amend it for yourself and to keep track of what you’re doing. Right now in June I’m sowing things from the last couple weeks of May and the first couple weeks of June, because we’ve had such a cold delayed start to the year.